“Where are you from?
No, where you from?
Where are you really from?”
Live Lunch is an intermittent series at the Royal Court which acts as a showcase for writers both new and established to delve into under-explored areas of drama. In this instance, a group of playwrights were commissioned to create short plays with British East Asian experiences at the heart of their stories and the result is Hidden, six dramas “exploding myths, questioning types and discovering hidden narratives” of a section of the population who are chronically under-represented in British cultural life. Directed by Lucy Morrison, a company of eight actors gave two lunchtime readings of the programme.
There’s something rather awe-inspiring about the rehearsed reading format. With barely three hours of rehearsal for each piece and scripts in hand, there’s a rawness to the performance level which enhances it somewhat, the occasional stumble over words giving some of the texts a believably natural feel. And seeing the speed with which the actors traverse grand emotions as they flick from play to play is truly admirable, Lourdes Faberes particularly impressing in casting off a tear-soaked character to move swiftly to the studied enigma of the next.
The writing covered an impressive range of styles and formats, from the deeply personal opening monologue of Kathryn Golding’s Being Suzy Wong to the overtly theatrical composition of (Hidden) In The Screen by Daniel York Loh and its societal analyses. Golding’s text may need a little refining, especially in better integrating its up-to-the-minute references, but its excoriating testimony is wonderfully confrontational. And York Loh has hit on a fascinating way of both detailing and commenting on the ways in which British East Asians have been and are represented on stage and screen.
I really enjoyed Vera Chok and Andrew Koji’s warring couple in Mulan by Chris Thompson, doing battle over anything from moving to Maidstone, Disney’s cultural appropriation in telling stories such as Mulan (the Westernised gag is still making me chortle now) and her infidelity with his boss. Faberes’ beautifully calibrated emotion came in the eloquent Restrain your grief and adapt to the mishap by Lucy Chau Lai-Tuen, her grieving new widow interacting in past and fantastical present to gorgeous effect. Amber Hsu’s (No One Disaster is Total) and Vivienne Franzmann’s Breathe completed the set.
So a fascinating insight into the lives of British East Asians, a useful reminder of the wealth of talent that casting directors could utilise much more (the Andrews Koji and Leung are both strong and I fell hard for Faberes, someone cast her in a play now!) and a reiteration of the vital work the Royal Court is doing in nurturing and fostering new writing in this country. Lastly, as a sad final note, the performances of Hidden were dedicated to the memory of Junix Inocian who passed away suddenly just before he was due to start rehearsals with the team.